Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Agua Chiquita Creek-Lincoln National Forest

My wife gave me a copy of Fly Fishing in  Southern New Mexico( inscribed by Rex Johnson,with whom I would communicate and eventually meet many years later, though my wife met him the day she bought the book) the first summer we lived here back in 1998.  This book would hold a powerful sway over me for many years.Little did I know at the time that trout fishing in our half of the state would change so dramatically over just a couple of years, or that processes that would render several of the streams described in the book obsolete had already begun to take place. I diligently began visiting the places listed  that were the most readily accessible for day trip fly fishing. Of course, the distances traveled for  day trips in New Mexico probably seem a bit outrageous  to folks from other parts of the country, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
      One of those early trips found me investigating the tiny Sacramento River and the tinier Agua Chiquita Creek in the Lincoln National Forest. It was August. I saw a few tiny black forms below the concrete spillway on the Sacramento. Further downstream, in Timberon and beyond, it was  pure mud. I did try a few casts, but it was pointless. Over at Agua Chiquita, the water was clearer. I tried my luck in the section  below Sand Springs. There were some good pools,but there was no action. I did see one brookie before I gave up. A subsequent visit, either later that year or the following year had me believing that one  I saw may have been the last of the tribe. Now,there was nothing, just as I had found over at Tierra Blanca Creek( another stream mentioned in the book) in the Gila's Black Range. Fires,persistent drought, and rogue cattle grazing put an end to trout in Agua Chiquita, if not at that time, then soon afterwards.
     The last few years our  Gila /Rio Grande Chapter of Trout Unlimited had been studying and working on the stream with idea of establishing a population of Rio Grande Cutthroats.The Forest Service also began building a pipe fence to exclude cattle in certain sections towards that end as well.The notion has since been abandoned due in large part to the fact that during the entire period of study and work there has been very, very little water in the stream. When I visited a few weeks ago, the stream looked as I first saw it: beautiful with green grass, little falls and pools. It had finally been replenished by a week or more of late season September rains and was looking like it should hold trout. But it doesn't right now. Perhaps if the rain and snow come back like they should, it will once again.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Willie White Trail-( FT 113 and 112) Lincoln National Forest

We hiked this trail once, eight or nine years ago. We started out at the popular Bluff Springs picnic area, where there is ample parking. After checking out the springs, which seep out of the grassy hillside and then over travertine cliff, we started heading southeast on a short spur trail. Eventually the trail turns to the south and then back to the west as it follows the old narrow gauge railroad beds. It crosses an area with a large grassy swale,which looks like it could hold water  after the snow melt, or during the summer monsoon. I can't really remember if this was a man-made cattle tank or a natural feature. We then began hiking up hill on the wide trail following the dry stream in Willie White Canyon. Where it  tops out  was an area of extensive logging by the many stumps all around. It's also a little confusing as to which way to go,as the top of this hill is the juncture of several trails. We eventually continued west and downhill  in the heavily wooded Telephone Canyon. There are many springs along  this part of route, so the small stream may be running much of the year. The trail comes out  of the woods at Forest Road 5009  in the aptly named Water Canyon which has even more flowing springs. We walked past several pleasant, occupied campsites on our way back to Rio Penasco Road  ( County Road C 17) which winds it's way back to Bluff Springs. This is an okay hike. Not spectacular  by any means, but it may have several things to recommend it depending on the season. Elevation gain is about 1000 feet. The thing I remember most about hiking this trail, was a  tree, and not a particularly small one either, fell across trail right before our eyes, when we were just a short  ways into our walk. Note: We did this hike on weekday and saw no one. However,  by the condition of the second half of the trail it  was obvious that it  receives  heavy motorized use at times. Check with the Lincoln National Forest website as to the current rules for it use. It is possible to use the Wills Canyon Trail( FT 5008) to make this hike a " lollipop" loop, if wish to avoid the several miles of road walking that we did.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monument Canyon( FT 123)- Lincoln National Forest

 We did this hike in a remote corner of the Lincoln on Sunday. While driving there, somehow I drove right by the turnoff for NM 6563( Sunspot Highway) and continued blissfully down the Cox Canyon Road( NM 130). After awhile, I realized my mistake, but rather than backtracking. I used NM 24 to swing over to Sacramento and then NM 521 which led me to FR 64( the Agua Chiquita Road) from which I could access Forest Roads 255 and 5600 and the Monument Canyon trailhead. I used my intended route for  return trip: FR 64 to FR 460( Scott Able Canyon Road) to the Sacramento River Road and then back to the Sunspot Highway to  get back to Cloudcroft, and realized it was 6 of one , half a dozen of the other. I don't think I saved a minute of  time  or mileage either way. It was cloudy and cool as we got started at about a quarter to one. We ate lunch soon after along the trail. There is some big timber along this first section, and some even bigger stumps.
      Eventually we made it to Monument Spring which flows out from a limestone wall at the base of the hillside on the east side of the creek. The flow was small and partly piped, but it was enjoyed by our doggies anyway. The spring has built a  huge tufa mound adjacent to the creek, which in wetter times holds a multi-tiered cascade at least 75 feet in height.  From this  point on , due to the highly mineralized flow from the  spring, the creek contains dozens of tufa dams and small tufa underlain waterfalls. Unfortunately, most of these were dry,but it would  awesome to come in the spring to see them all flowing. The creek did flow, crystal clear as in most carbonate rich areas, in a few short runs near springs . Fall color was provided mostly by boxelder and the occasional aspen. There were also a few oaks, and a very few maples tucked in along the hillside. We saw fresh bear and elk scat, ravens, Stellar's Jays, hawks and owls.
      We came to a gate after a couple of miles. It wasn't posted, so we walked on until we saw the ranch house and out buildings of the Holcombe Ranch and turned around.  Our dogs had become  covered in a myriad of burs from the many weeds along the way. I couldn't help speculating as to what this canyon would look like without the effects of cattle ranching. Would the creek run year round? Would the clearings be thick with grass instead of a mind boggling variety of weeds? Would there be willows and  other young trees along the creek banks, instead of just the mature boxelders?    
       When we got back to the truck, about a  dozen cattle were waiting for us. A few had even slobbered on  our truck. One black one was particularly ornery and did a half hearted charge in our direction. I refrained from tossing a rock in its direction, but just barely. On the long drive home( 2.5 hours) both wife and I were thinking about the feasibility of these long drives for day hikes. A few years ago, I thought nothing of it. Now, it's beginning to wear a little thin. There were many beautiful aspen groves at their peak of color along the Sacramento River Road(NM 507), and the Sunspot Highway to keep our spirits up. There were also  many new signed trailheads  which intrigued me with thoughts for future excursions.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sierra de las Uvas -Picnic

We took advantage of the cooler temperatures and cloudless skies on Sunday and went for a picnic in the Sierra de las Uvas. We drove out Corralitos Road, admiring the lush growth of grass( and weeds too) that is currently blanketing the desert. Many of the low water crossings along the way had a thick deposit of sand in them, put there no doubt during the recent heavy rains in our area.  Approach these very slowly if you go. We found the area we wanted a short ways after the road climbs very steeply to a plateau . We had scouted out some very rough side roads in this area as potential camping spots, and thought we would use one of them today for our picnic. It was a beautiful spot. The steep mountains immediately to our west were wonderfully  green. The rocky ravine beneath us held some intrigue.
        After eating we decided to explore it, finding that it still held some water from the rain a few weeks ago.  As it has happened in other parts of this mountain range,wherever one finds these natural holding places for water- there will be evidence of ancient peoples. In  a short time we found a few petroglyphs  and several grinding holes: a delightful bonus to a beautiful day. Our Scotties enjoyed the rock-hopping adventure- but when they heard a squirrel in the brush and their hunting instincts kicked in, we knew it was time to round them up and head back. It was so lovely to see our desert so green again. It's been a long time. Get out and enjoy it over the next few weeks. Note- Be prepared to see some of the most enormous grasshoppers if have ever seen in you life . We were inadvertently squishing the many mating pairs that had  wandered into the roadway during our drive.